A monthly column on Bits and their Application
Last month we discussed some of the reasons why the simple, mild egg-butt snaffle is not simple or mild and how the correct fitting and use of this highly recommended bit is paramount for effective control and comfort of the horse.
Once the horse is wearing an egg-butt snaffle which doesn’t slide from side to side in it’s mouth, which doesn’t dangle so low the tushes are knocked, which isn’t so thick that the lips won’t close around it properly, which isn’t causing a constant pressure against the sides of the mouth because it is too tight ... gasp ... (and so on) we can then look at the way we need to use the bit in relationship to the horse’s stage of training.
At the very green stage of training the horse has a frame, and head position, which is long and forward. The mouth is carried out in front of the face with the lip-line almost at the same angle as the reins. This means that the mouthpiece of the bit acts in a direction towards the corners of the lips. This also means that the bars of the lower jaw are hardly touched. Unfortunately for the young horse, this ‘green’ stage usually coincides with teething. There are twenty-four enormous, permanent molars forcing their way through the gums and into the jaw causing the normal discomfort associated with teething. If we couple this with a bit which works up the jaw towards the molars (as all snaffles do) we add problems to an already sore and tender area.
At an ‘intermediate’ stage of training the frame becomes more rounded and the head is carried in a lifted manner making the bit lie a little lower in the mouth. The distance, or angle, between the bridle cheek-pieces and reins is more open. This means that the bit sits in the horse’s mouth more towards the front teeth than before. It lies over the tongue more than at the ‘green’ stage and it has a divided contact between the lip-corners and the bars of the lower jaw.
At the later stages of training the position of the horse’s head changes again, and so does the contact areas of the bit. When the horse is in the ‘on-the-bit’ outline, the snaffle is in an even lower position in the mouth and it will have very little pressure on the lips and corners. The mouthpiece lies over the tongue and across the bars of the lower jaw and in a position that leaves the molars alone.
If more riders understood the young horse, and their mouth development stages, many control problems we see later would be avoided. Anyone handling young horses should never lose sight of the problems that teething can cause and should always allow the time necessary for the early lessons to be established without fear or pain. When the rider asks too much during this teething time, resistances may develop. An impatient rider is a menace with a snaffle as the combination of a direct contact with an unprotected head position and/or teething can cause terrible pain.
During the early stages of training the horse’s head carriage, the teething process, and the general newness of being broken in, all combine to be a recipe for disaster. The rider must be prepared to take time, to show sensitivity and to be keenly observant of what the horse may be trying to avoid. The position of the bit in the horse’s mouth is vitally important and the rider should be constantly checking the impact it is having … both physically (in the mouth) and psychologically (in the learning process).
Next month I will discuss how to make sure your young horse develops a ‘good tongue habit’.